Several years have passed since universal health coverage has become both an element of the Sustainable Development Goals and a political choice made by global leaders, who continue to include universal health coverage on their own agendas whenever they assemble at the G7, G20, United Nations General Assembly and many other forums.
Then, COVID-19 made a sudden appearance in early 2020. The global community has spent trillions of dollars combating the virus, the highest ever yearly spending for a single health agenda. Has this detracted attention and commitment from universal health coverage? It should not. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates clearly why we need to invest in universal health coverage, more than ever.
At present, vaccination is one of the highest priorities in combating COVID-19. As of autumn 2021, high-income countries have provided vaccines to almost all citizens who wish to get the shot. There is, however, a stark disparity between high- and low-income countries. In low-income countries, only a small fraction of the population has access to vaccines. This is not solely a problem for the poor; the effects are universal because, during a pandemic, we are only as strong as our weakest link. We are not protected until everyone is protected.
What is needed to deploy vaccines globally, including to vulnerable and hard-to-reach populations? Is it financing, the health workforce, cold chain, health centres, vaccine production, recording and monitoring systems, or stewardship? The answer is all of the above. All these factors have positive effects. In other words, the answer to the problem is universal health coverage.
As universal health coverage goodwill ambassador for the World Health Organization, I have been advocating for universal health coverage in various forums. Although I have always had many reasons to support why we need to invest in universal health coverage, COVID-19 brings us another powerful reason for us all to push for it. ▪